The Red Storm are feeling good, collecting accolades from fans and the national media. With votes in both the coaches’ and AP poll, the Red Storm are obviously, quantifiably on the rise. With Dwight Hardy being named Big East player of the week, the team has an emerging star. The Johnnies record of 7 league wins is the highest in-conference win total they’ve had since 2006-07… when they finished 11th in the 16 team league.
In years past, these bits of attention, these positive notes, they were considered progress.
Not anymore; the players have taken beatings from every team in the conference over the last 4 years, and this is a year to mete out some payback. Along with payback, the Red Storm should be dissatisfied with how they have played on the road; they could be much better, but have disturbing lulls and offensive issues to work out. Things look rosy now, but the Johnnies need to keep improving into a dangerous team.
With that in mind, did you know that St. John’s hasn’t beaten the Marquette Golden Eagles since 1966, when former St. John’s player and Marquette coaching legend Al McGuire was leading the then-Warriors (Lou Carnesecca was roaming the sidelines for the then-Redmen in one of his first seasons)?
The Golden Eagles have put an excellent product on the court, and have beaten St. John’s in blowouts and in close games, at home, and away. The Golden Eagles’ defense is questionable. But despite their defensive deficiencies, they can put up points. And with St. John’s offensive and defensive deficiencies… this game could be a blowout instead of another gritty road win. Marquette isn’t as sloppy or discombobulated as the Cincinnati Bearcats.
The Red Storm have get better and more consistent if they want to make a run into the postseason. Marquette is one of the teams’ best chances to show how they have improved. Can the Johnnies gain respect with another road win?
Right now, St. John’s is an interesting team. They’ve been outscored by quite a few points in conference play, yet have a winning record on the strength of a number of close wins. The defense isn’t great at getting opponents to miss shots. But the Johnnies are generally doing a great job of turning over opponents (limiting their chances to score), keeping opponents from offensive rebounds (limiting their chances to score), and keeping them off the free throw line (limiting their chances to score).
Marquette (15-10, 6-6)
But it seems that no matter what they do, their defense often seems to rest. Witness the horrors that allowed the South Florida Bulls to get a 16 point lead (44-28) at home. The South Florida Bulls can’t actually “score”; it’s only their ability to choke under pressure that earned the win for Marquette.
And speaking of pressure – Buzz Williams had decided during and after that game that the Golden Eagles would start putting a little pressure on opponents, using their deep crop of guards to harass others and control the rhythms of the game. Some turnovers help; St. John’s turnover ability has gotten them to 1 win above Marquette.
The Golden Eagles play a guard-oriented offense once again, with Darius Johnson-Odom and Jimmy Butler leading the way. The 6’7 Butler is a jack of all trades for the team, rebounding solidly on both ends and driving to the hoop, drawing fouls (though he can shoot pretty well from the field). Johnson-Odom takes a lot of shots while on the floor. He leads the team in scoring in conference play at 18.4 ppg. He’s willing to make the pass and gets fouled a solid number of times.
Those two are accompanied by Dwight Hardy’s friend from JuCo, Dwight Buycks. Buycks seems to be playing with the ball more in his hands – leading to more assists, but also more turnovers. Buycks is shooting 50% from the three-point line in conference play, but far worse inside the arc. Freshman Vander Blue also sees some time. He’s athletic but sometimes misses shots or dribbles into bad spaces on the floor. And Junior Cadougan has functioned strictly as a passer in league play, having taken 28 field goals in 12 games.
Up front, Jae Crowder is a muscular beast that the Red Storm forwards could have trouble with. Crowder is agile and versatile; much like the Red Storm’s Justin Brownlee, he can hit outside, inside, has deceptive post moves, and quick defensive hands. 6’11 Chris Otule also sees some minutes; he’s a work in progress, but blocks shots. 6’8 freshman Davante Gardner is also available for minutes in the post.
Keys to the Game
Get Points. Simplistic, yes. But the winner of the game will be winner of the matchup between Marquette’s moveable defense and St. John’s stoppable/ slumpable offense. The Red Storm have to hit the wide open shots they’re give, have to take the open lanes to the basket. And they have to draw fouls.
Don’t turn the ball over. Marquette has some ballhawks, and ST. John’s has a problem with giving the ball away on self-inflicted mistakes.
Brownlee/ Evans/ Burrell. The Red Storm’s bigs have a chance to make an impact on the game, defending the crafty Jae Crowder and keeping the Golden Eagles off the glass.
Cover up defensive breakdowns. Buzz Williams’ team is smart and will abuse defensive lapses and breakdowns by the Red Storm. The defenders have to be sharp on the perimeter and disrupt Marquette just enough to throw off their rhythm, but not so much that the defenders end up out of position chasing for a steal.
Keep up the road energy. The Cincy game saw the Red Storm come out sharp. They need to come out firing once again.
Prediction: The Golden Eagles are too much for St. John’s. Marquette wins 77-68.